When the GOP’s hawks make the case for sustained high levels of defense spending, put most succinctly by Rep Tom Cotton this week at CPAC asking whether we could afford it–”Yes we can afford it, and yes we must afford it”–they’re almost always missing the point. A story in the Washington Times yesterday makes a data-rich case for why: it’s the very commitment to those high levels of defense spending that has encouraged the Pentagon to adopt wasteful procurement strategies:

Frank Kendall, the Pentagon’s undersecretary for acquisition, last year called the F-35′s procurement process “acquisition malpractice” because the plane was being developed at the same time it was being manufactured. Glitches found in test flights have had to be corrected during production at a huge cost. The Army sank $18 billion into the Future Combat System to fight on what it thought would be tomorrow’s high-tech battlefield. On the drawing board: 14 ground vehicles, communications hubs and unmanned aircraft that would revolutionize how soldiers fight. Not a lot came of it. Like the F-35, total program costs ballooned, from $92 billion to $159 billion. The GAO, which has chronicled botched weapons purchases, reported that for the Future Combat System, “There is not a firm foundation of knowledge for a confident cost estimate.”

The takeaway:

The miscalculations have come back to haunt the armed forces at a time when tighter budgets are forcing it to curtail basic war-fighting preparations such as training, ship and aircraft repairs, and overseas deployments.

In other words, poor stewardship of defense investment has, in a sense, made the sequester’s indiscriminate cuts necessary.

At the very least, the story proves how unreliable cost estimates are for major programs like the F-35, littoral combat ship, and the Future Combat System, and suggests fairly significant defense cuts are possible without endangering national security.